I was recently scrolling on Twitter (yes, I know) and I came across a tweet about negative thinking that really made me pause. Here it is:
My therapist told me that anxious people have tendency to only explore the scary “what ifs” and challenged me to remember that there is also a flip side. What if you excel? What if it is one of the best experiences of your life? What if it changes you in a beautiful way?
— Mrs. Grotke (@__BHB__) October 18, 2018
I wasn’t alone in thinking that this seemingly obvious yet easily overlooked choice was in its own way, a revolutionary act. At the time I saw it, this had been retweeted over 288,000 times. It got me thinking about all the “what ifs” that have kept me up at night, stolen my thoughts throughout the day, and kept me from pursuing things I thought could make my life better.
How Negativity Affects Your Goals
The most recent example of how I get caught up in the highs of new things and easily swept away by fear once reality sets in is resigning from my job back in June and taking a leap of faith to focus on my writing and this blog full time. You may know how this story goes. The first few days of a new adventure are riveting. Your energy is up, your focus is strong, and you just know that you can do this! It’s the same driving force that makes you weigh yourself after a couple days of healthy eating, expecting to see some results.
As soon as the initial excitement fades from a new endeavor, my anxious brain goes into overdrive and it is one of the things that has held me back the most in my life. I will start to worry, get buried in fear, and eventually quit before I’ve given myself half a chance.
Since returning back from a seven-week visit to the States, I have devoted probably 2 or 3 solid, full-time 8 to 10 hours per day of work to my website and writing. In the grand scheme of entrepreneurship, that’s not a whole lot of time. However, it’s also the first time since I was 17 years old that I did not have a paycheck coming in and so the doubts and fears have already started.
The “What If’s” That Affect Our Thinking
What if nobody reads my work?
Or I never find a way to make money to help support my family?
What if I blow through my savings trying to get this project off the ground and nothing comes of it?
What happens if I fail?
I spend more minutes and hours wrestling with those questions than I care to admit, but you know what I don’t spend hardly any time doing? You guessed it. Looking at the flip side.
What if my website really takes off?
Or I’m able to find new opportunities to help people?
What if this project leads to more work?
Or I’m able to have an impact on people’s lives?
I worked a job I didn’t like for fourteen long years because I was afraid. I always looked at the scary “what ifs” and never the positive ones. When you do that, your anxiety will trigger more memories of times in your life when you were afraid or failed, and before you know it, that is the only story in your head. Your anxiety says, “of course you will fail at this because look at how you’ve failed in the past?” And you believe it. So you quit, usually before you’ve given yourself a real chance to succeed.
So what do you do?
Here’s a list of the top four suggestions I’ve come across and things I’ve used in the past to get myself out of endless cycles of negative thinking.
Tip 1: Meditate
I cannot stress this enough. Your brain needs exercise just as much as your body. A consistent meditation practice can do wonders for your life. Meditation has been scientifically proven to change your brain by increasing the gray matter in your hippocampus which translates into better memory, learning, and emotional regulations (yes, please!) and helping to create new neural pathways and connections in your brain and weakening connections associated with emotional reactions. The end result is a less emotionally reactive, happier, more focused, and compassionate YOU.
What’s not to love?
You do not need to sit in meditation (or even sit at all) for hours a day. Ten minutes every morning can get your major results. Here is a link to some meditation resources I use if you want to get started.
Tip 2: Adjust your focus
Whenever you catch yourself engaging in negative thinking, force yourself to create an opposite narrative. Worried that you are going to relapse at your sister’s wedding next month? Force yourself to think about what an amazing time you will have without booze and how good it will feel to wake up the next day without a hangover or a head full of regrets.
In her conversation with renowned Australian surfer, Layne Beachley, Margie Warrell talks about the power of focusing on what you want as an antidote to fear and negative thinking. She writes, “If you give in to what scares you, you can find yourself unintentionally living a life that you know in your heart is far short of the one you are capable of living.”
Since you can’t predict the future, you don’t know if the scary what if will be true or the miraculous one, so you might as well give energy to the preferred outcome instead of torturing yourself in the build up.
Tip 3: Start Small
One of the BIGGEST challenges I’ve come up against in building my website and writing career is information overload. I am learning so much (and loving it)! However I catch myself not being as productive as I could be or allowing a lot of negative thinking into my brain because I am overwhelmed by how much I don’t know. I look around at what other, more established folks, are doing and think, “How am I ever going to keep up with all of this?”
Start. Small. If you’re up against a daunting task or a new chapter in your life, start where you are. This strategy worked wonders for me in graduate school and I realize that I need to return to it if I’m going to succeed.
Ask yourself: Where am I now? Where do I want to be? What do I need to do today to get there? What do I need to do this week? This month?
Then understand that you cannot (nor should you try) to do everything at once. You cannot compete against an olympic runner when you haven’t even completed a Couch to 5K training program.
I’ve spent that last week attempting to be an instant SEO genius and Pinterest guru while maintaining a more consistent content schedule, create a new Facebook Group, participate in my other groups, revitalize my old instagram account, and…
Well, you get the point. After I finish writing this, I’m taking my own advice and sitting down to pair this down so I can actually focus on what is going to serve me best right now where I am at. An overwhelmed brain is more likely quit.
Tip 4: Exercise
You don’t have to be a gym rat, but you need to move your body on a consistent basis. Physical activity helps clear the cobwebs and fights the ever rising cortisol levels in our anxiety riddled bodies.
Endorphins are good for the soul. The difference something as simple as a ten minute walk can make on your mood and energy levels is amazing!
If I’m being honest, every single time I work out, I have to REALLY talk myself into doing it. I do not pop out of bed saying, “Yes, Queen! Time to hit the gym!” I might go to bed the night before thinking that I will embody this gym goddess by dawn, but she rarely shows up.
Sometimes I give in to my negative thinking and skip my work outs for an entire week. Every single time I do this, I feel worse – both physically and mentally. However, I have never regretted going to the gym after I’ve shown up.
Get Ready to Get Better
Battling all the negative thoughts wandering around in your brain is not going to be easy. This is the number one thing I am consistently working on. Follow these steps to start chipping away at the fear-based thinking and see what happens! Watch you world open up inch by inch.
Do you have strategies for combatting the bad “what ifs”? Please share them in the comments below! Have additional tools and resources to recommend? We’d love to have those too!